Book Review: “Quarks Chaos and Christianity” by John Polkinghorne

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I decided to pick up “Quarks Chaos and Christianity” for two reasons.

1) The author (John Polkinghorne) is both a renowned theoretical physicist and an Anglican priest. How could I not be interested in a book by a guy with a resume like that.

2) The book is barely over one hundred pages long, so I knew I could read it quickly one lazy afternoon. While I do love a good long book, I’m also a big fan of the quick read as well.

In his book, John Polkinghorne tries to bridge the gap between science and religion by seeking a common ground of mutual understanding. This rare convergence of the empirical and religious mind is a welcomed break from the clash many readers might have come to expect in texts that deal with the relationship between the sciences and religion. The book is easy to follow, which is surprising when one considers the very advanced physical and theological concepts that the author deals with. As a reader who’s only knowledge of physics is what I’ve seen on the Discovery Channel show “How The Universe Works” I was still able to follow along pretty easily.  Polkinghorne manages the very difficult feat of tackling both theology and physical sciences in an accessible and non-threatening way.

The book is organized into eight chapters, each dealing with a specific problem that a scientific mind might have when it comes to matters of faith and religion. It is clear from the questions Polkinghorne chooses to address that this book was aimed more at the scientist struggling with faith than the faithful struggling with science, though readers from either perspectives could benefit from this book.  Religion, as presented in this book, is not something completely alien to science but rather just another tool by which man seeks to understand the universe that God created.  A person unfamiliar with science might have to overcome a slight learning curve as a result, but Polkinghorne does his best to explain any difficult concepts referenced within the text. I do not consider myself to be scientifically gifted, but I was able to easily following along most of the time.

The topics covered in this book are:

  1. Why do we need religion?
  2. Does the universe need a creator or designer?
  3. Why does evil exist from a scientific and religious stand point?
  4. Is a man more than a just a body?
  5. Can a logical person pray?
  6. How can a scientist believe in miracles?
  7. Where does Christianity stand in a universe that is materially pointless, hopeless, and inevitably doomed?
  8. What does all of this mean?

While I have some issues with this book, I feel it has done as excellent a job of trying to unite religion and science as anyone could hope for. Polkinghorne, for the most part, manages to stay both theologically and scientifically sound in all of his claims as far as this reader could tell. Though I do not agree with some of the author’s conclusion I could easily follow most of his thoughts and see how he came to most of the conclusions he did. Many sections of this book, I found to be extremely enlightening and challenging. The combined mastery that Polkinghorne shows for both science and theology is at a level that I have not experienced before in a single author. Of the weaknesses I found in this book, most were nothing more than leaps in logic I did not follow or assumptions that I thought were too readily accepted. I cannot really criticize Polkinghorne too harshly for this, since the subject matter he is dealing with exists largely in the theoretical and theological disagreements on my part do not equal a weakness on the author’s part.

This book should be seen as a valuable resource considering how well it is able to make sense of advanced concepts that could easily confuse most men. The amazing way in which Polkinghorne is able to work science into religion is heads above the usually heavy-handed attempts to force the two together. I would gladly recommend this book for either the scientific person wandering if religion can be for them, or for the religious person wanting to understand how the Christian faith works in this ever increasingly scientific world.  This book successfully manages to bring two different schools of thought together without overtly catering to one side or the other, and in doing so it achieves the goal it set out to accomplish.

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Book Review: “Orthodoxy” by G.K. Chesterton

“People have fallen into a foolish habit of speaking of orthodoxy as something heavy, humdrum and safe. There never was anything so perilous or exciting as orthodoxy”

-G.K. Chesterton

151836 “Orthodoxy” by G.K. Chesterton is quite easily one of the greatest Christian works of the 20th century although from reading it you get the impression that Chesterton had no clue that his work would ever be seen as something influential. He writes as one who is only doing so on a whim, and that tends to work for the books advantage. Chesterton’s book is a joy to read, but if you expect this book to be anything more than enlightened ramblings you may be disappointed. By this I mean that, while the book is a wonderful read, it reads as if Chesterton were merely flowing from one thought to the next without really any end goal in mind. Most all of his chapters will inevitably end up connecting back to the beginning of the Chapter in some means as a sort of loose circle of thought, but the author feels free to go wherever his thought or the spirit leads.

As a result of this you should be prepared to simply enjoy the ride and allow your mind to wander with Chesterton as you read this book. By doing so you will hear very interesting and thoughtful contemplations on evolution, buddhism, Frederich Nietzche, suicide, materialism, politics, martyrdom, mythology, and the absurdist human desire for meaning (just to name a few). Chesterton is an intellectual giant who, upon contemplating life, meaning, purpose, death, and the philosophy of self realized that Christian Orthodoxy was one of the few things that was successful in actually making complete sense of the world around us and our place in it. He elaborates heavily on the Christian view of the world and how vastly distinct it is from the other theologies and philosophies of the world.

It is also worth noting that Chesterton was a wonderful wordsmith. His thought flow very smoothly and his writing comes off natural, like an old grandfather recalling a tale he has told a thousand times. Nothing feels forced here and (thought I do not fully agree with all of his conclusions) I can easily follow how he reached every conclusion he states. He puts as much logic into Christianity as is possible for a “faith” to have, and I would be a terrible reviewer if I failed to mention that this is easily one of the most quotable books I have ever come across. The book is riddled with “Chesterton-isms” that are both enlightening and occasionally humorous. His writings are reminiscent of Lewis or in style, but with the mental and philosophical strength of Kierkegaard or Bultman, and the lucid and free roaming nature of Donald Miller. Very well done, and highly recommended.


If you want a free copy of Orthodoxy, you are in luck because it exists in the public domain:

Book Review: “The Moral Teachings of Paul” by Victor Paul Furnish

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The author’s desire in writing the book is to address many of the false interpretations of Paul’s ethical teachings. This is accomplished by pointing out the flaws of the two extremes commonly taken in approaching Paul’s ethical teachings, as well as responding to several commonly misinterpreted or falsely applied teachings of Paul. As a result, the majority of the text is devoted to interpreting Paul’s understanding of marriage, sex, divorce, homosexuality, women in the church, and Christianity’s response to the Non-Christian world. The author goes into extensive detail on each issue in an attempt to uncover what Paul’s view most likely was on the subject. While the author’s conclusions may be questioned by readers, Furnish does accomplish the goals set out in the text and, for the most part, presents strong arguments from the text to support his claims.

While making his arguments, the author prefers to approach Paul from the viewpoint of the historical context in which Paul wrote. Furnish seems to believe that forming an accurate understanding a passage is heavily based on one’s able to read the passage as it would have been read by Paul’s original audience. Historical context is highly valued by the author and provides a backbone for many of the arguments made. Language also plays a valuable part of Furnish’s argument style, as his knowledge of Greek terminology is frequently used to defend his arguments and attack the views he disagrees with. The author seems to view himself as a valid authority in these regards because he rarely bothers to cite a source outside of the works of Paul and his own knowledge.

The Moral Teachings of Paul proves to be a mixed bag of strong and questionable arguments. There is a tendency on the part of the author to deny Paul’s teachings of any universal nature, claiming that Paul was reserved in the use of his authority and avoids an authoritarian view of himself (p. 51-52). The author prefers to present Paul as one who provides interpretations and opinions rather than direct command. This reviewer finds this to be a weak point in Furnish’s writing, in that he can at times fall into the “white elephant” category of interpretation that he speaks out against. While not all of Paul’s teachings were direct commands, Paul did claim authority directly from God (Gal. 1:11-12; Eph. 3:3-5) and made direct commands of the highest authority (1 Cor. 14:37). In this way it seems a misstep to so readily dismiss Paul as one who merely interpreted the faith and scripture that already existed. The most prominent issue with Furnish’s book, however, lies in the author’s inability to accept the notion that Paul could have changed or grown in his understanding with the passage of time. Furnish dismisses the pastoral letters of Paul because they contradict his understandings of Galatians 3:28 (p. 97-98). Ephesians and Colossians are also dismissed in the mind of Furnish because they reflect a change of Paul’s understanding of the immanence of Christ’s return (p. 102). By doing this the author has not only forbidden Paul to adapt and grow, but he has also created a means to negate many verses that could call certain arguments of his into question.

In spite of the aforementioned issues, Furnish does provide some very strong arguments that prove to be very well thought out and informative. In the chapter devoted to sex, marriage, and divorce, this reviewer found the majority of the author’s conclusions to be very well argued.  The author points out that Paul practicality in dealing with such matters (p. 42) and notes how in spite of Paul’s limited eschatological understanding,  there is still practical application which can be drawn from Paul’s writings on such topics (p. 46-48). In a similar way, Furnish’s chapter devoted to Paul’s understanding of the world proved to be informative and consistent throughout. This reviewer had no qualms in dealing with either of these passages.

Furnish’s third chapter deals with the homosexuality and devotes a strange abundance of time and effort to the topic considering how early in the chapter Furnish argues that “there is nothing in the Bible, including the letters of Paul, about Continue reading